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History Blog: Alexander the Great and the Sack of Persepolis

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As Alexander the Great marched toward Persepolis he was not prepared for the kind of greeting he would receive.

To Alexander, reaching Persepolis would be one of the crowning achievements of his campaign. The Persian capital stood as the center of the Persian Empire and Alexander was determined to conquer it. However even Alexander could not predict what would happen once his army arrived.

As Alexander neared the Persian capital of Persepolis he was intercepted by a messenger. The message was from Tiridates, the governor of the city. Tiridates had a simple but powerful request from Alexander.

At that same moment a large group of Persians were on their way to the capital to defend it on the behalf of Darius. Tiridates said that if Alexander could reach the city before the defenders did Tiredates would betray the city to Alexander. Essentially Alexander would win the city without a fight.

Alexander Races Toward Persepolis

The race to Persepolis began and Alexander decided to move his army by forced march towards the capital.

Alexander did indeed reach the city first. However he and his army were not prepared for what they were about to find.

800 Greeks came out of the city to greet the oncoming army. These Greeks had been taken into captivity at various times and were treated as slaves in the capital city. These men and women had been carried away in captivity by previous Persian rulers. The Persians had mutilated and deformed most of them. Many of the Greeks had been taught to perform various menial tasks and the Persians would amputate the appendages that the Greeks did not need. The captors left them only with the limbs that were required to perform their duties.

To make matters worse, many of the Greeks had been branded with letters from the Persian alphabet. These Greeks poured out of the city eager to be rid of their slavery and begin their journey home.

Alexander Frees the Greek Slaves

Alexander said that he would restore the slaves to their previous homes. The Greeks however asked if they could remain together so their deformities would not stand out.

Alexander sent the Greeks home and gave each of them 3000 drachmae and made them exempt from paying royal taxes.

Alexander was moved to anger, even tears. Before they entered the city Alexander told his men that no city was more hated than Persepolis. He informed his men that Persepolis should be blotted from the earth.

Previously Alexander had planned on entering the city in peace, even to fanfare and a parade but that was no more. Alexander for the first time in his campaign let his army sack a city and take for themselves what they found. Alexander gave two rules. Sacking the royal palaces and cruelty to women were forbidden. The soldiers of the army had been deprived of Persian treasure up to this point and eagerly flooded the city.

The men of the army were out to not only avenge the Greek slaves, but to also pay the Persians back for their sack of Athens. Alexander’s army spent the entire day in pillage.

Several years later Alexander returned to Persepolis and vocally regretted his act. His officers quietly noted that it seemed Alexander was prone to sudden acts of rage not unlike his father Philip of Macedon.
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